Review: Don’t fall for Rishi Sunak’s Prime Minister symbolism

Editor’s note: Kehinde Andrews He is Professor of Black Studies at Birmingham City University and author of The New Age of Empire: How Racism and Colonialism Still Rule the World. The opinions in the comment are his own. See more reviews on CNN.


Britain welcomed its first non-white prime minister, Rishi Suna, a practicing Hindu, on the first day of the Diwali festival. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a ray of light for race relations, and it’s already being heralded as a “historic moment”, marking a change since Suna was born in 1980 when there were no black or Asian members of Parliament. .

Unfortunately, rather than a sign of progress, this is a serious case of being careful what you wish for.

For starters, we should remember that Suna was not elected—he was accepted after the other conservative candidate for the top job failed to meet the nomination threshold—so that tells us little about voter attitudes toward racial minority candidates.

Indeed, in Sunak’s only public vote for leadership, among members of the Conservative Party, he lost convincingly to perhaps the most inappropriate prime minister the country has ever seen, Liz Truss.

It is remarkable that members of Parliament were so keen on Monday to ensure Sunak was unopposed that there is no better certainty that he would fare better in a second poll later in the week with the Conservative Party’s broader, disproportionately white, male and older membership. .

Sunak was heavily backed by conservative members of parliament, who rallied to install him as leader. This is his constituency, which he really represents.

The current iteration of the Tories lacks even the pretense of compassion. This is the party that voted behind the xenophobic “Little England” Brexit campaign, which promised to keep foreigners out and restore Britain to its former (colonial) glory.

This is the party that brought in the most racist immigration laws in British history, including the hostile environment that led to the Windrush scandal and the recent plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

It is the party that commissioned the report claiming that institutional racism no longer exists. It is the party that brought in a police bill that would impose the biggest penalty for state damage in 10 years, more than some offenders have been sentenced for rape, according to the Labor Party.

Suna is not directly aware of any of these policies, but fully supports them. In his failed leadership campaign, he reaffirmed his Rwandan policy and sought to promote his anti-awakening credentials by condemning those who were trying to suppress traditional British values.

Sunak has a degree in philosophy, politics and economics from Oxford University and made a fortune in investment banking before joining one of the most right-wing governments in history.

He backed Brexit, wants to cut taxes and is expected to introduce a new round of austerity to balance the books.

Just because his skin is brown and his parents are immigrants doesn’t mean he automatically has any affinity with the millions of black and brown citizens who are victims of his party and its policies. His rise through the ranks of the Conservative Party proves that race doesn’t matter if you wholeheartedly support the party line.

It may be tempting to fall into symbolism, but Sunake does not represent Britain’s racial minorities. Migrant histories are too varied for a single person to do so.

The British Empire was vast, with a range of experiences that influence communities today. Sunak’s parents came from India from East Africa. The British invited Indian immigrants to the African continent almost to act as a buffer between the natives and the colonizers. (And as a source of cheap labor).

The relative prosperity of Indians on the continent and the tension of many anti-black attitudes came to a head when Idi Amin seized power in Uganda and expelled the Asians from the country in 1972.

This migration history is so different for those who migrated directly from India or Pakistan and Bangladesh that it is foolish to expect it to represent all Asians in Britain.

Race relations are much more complex than white and non-white. There are various attitudes, histories and controversies that imply that the only people Suna can represent are conservative politicians.

Unfortunately, conservatives have learned to play identity politics to perfection. Elevating racial minorities to prominent positions provides diversity to hide the party’s racist policies.

It cannot be a coincidence that the agenda for racist immigration policies has been delivered by a retinue of Asian home secretaries. It is almost impossible to imagine a white politician proposing to deport immigrants to Rwanda, but Priti Patel, whose parents are Ugandan Indians, could get away with such draconian measures without being accused of racism.

It was no coincidence that the most prominent defender of Britain’s whitewashed school curriculum was Kemi Badenoch, whose family is Nigerian, and when she was equalities minister, she used her Black History Month speech to defend Britain’s colonial history and declare it illegal for schools. To talk about White Privilege.

It is a terrible irony that the more diverse the Cabinet, the more at risk black and brown citizens find themselves. I am truly terrified of the prospect of Sunake becoming Prime Minister, because when the Prime Minister of this Conservative Party is brown, anything becomes possible.

It tells the nature of the threat that when I really have hope, he feels the need to surround himself with crappy white men to prove his credentials.

So please don’t celebrate. This is certainly the case when diversity is antithetical to racial progress.